Who’s your favorite CEO or business figurehead? Chances are, it’s someone prominent, whose name everyone knows. They’re likely an accomplished individual—someone with a track record of excellence and a penchant for producing excellent results. Bob Iger of Disney. Satya Nadella of Microsoft. Bill Gates. Jeff Bezos. Jack Dorsey. Mary Barra. The list of names is endless, but they all have one simple thing in common that transcends their roles in business. They’re all leaders.
Managers manage; leaders lead
You wouldn’t look at Elon Musk and say, “he’s a great manager,” or reflect on Steve Jobs and say, “he was an effective supervisor.” The only way to describe these people is as a leader. Words like visionary, genius, innovator, and trailblazer, come to mind, and they embody each of these people, regardless of their business or tenure. It’s because they didn’t strive to be great managers—they worked hard to become great leaders.
In the early stages, many entrepreneurs get the roles confused. They take the reins of their business and settle into a role in managing different facets of the operation. They feel like a leader because they’re out in front, piloting the company to new heights. The business gets bigger and grows more successful, but this only causes entrepreneurs to entrench themselves further in a management role.
Every entrepreneur needs to be able to look at their role and distinguish leadership from management. It’s not easy, but it’s part of growing from a manager into a leader. If you’re delegating tasks and overseeing the day-to-day operations, you’re a manager. If you’re empowering your people and getting traction for new business opportunities, you’re a leader. It’s not always that cut and dry, but the premise is the same. Managers manage; leaders lead.
Hallmarks of a great leader
What distinguishes a great leader from a mere manager? Several things, including the role you play and how you present yourself. If sales goals fall short, do you look to place blame and cite personal accountability, or do you look for new opportunities and coach your team to do better? If production is behind, do you make excuses or get down in the trenches to fill the gaps temporarily? What you do and how you act determines whether you’re a manager or a leader.
Leaders are defined by their actions as well as a unique set of traits. These include excellent communication skills, strategic thinking and planning, goal setting abilities, vision and forethought for the future, higher-order questioning, team building, and more.
Leaders strive to be the best in everything they do, but not at the expense of others. True leaders succeed not on the backs of those around them but by lifting everyone to new heights. Think back to Bill Gates or Steve Jobs and realize how prestigious they made working at Microsoft and Apple. They attracted the best talent to their companies, produced the best products, and created legacies bigger than themselves. Now, this is what leadership is.
Give employees a reason to follow
Above all else, leaders give employees a reason to follow them. Leaders inspire, even when the way ahead is uncertain or filled with doom and gloom. Good leaders are the reason talented people stick it out through tough times, setbacks, and struggles. It’s because their employees know there are better times ahead—good leaders convince them of that and deliver on that promise. The days might be long today, but they’ll be worth it tomorrow.
Many entrepreneurs want to be leaders but convince themselves that being a manager is the same thing. Not only can this stunt their plans for the future, but it can also trap them in a cycle of mediocrity. Every business needs good managers, but more importantly, they need a great leader. If you have convinced yourself they are the same, you take the risk your business will go without both.
It’s time to leave your identity as a manager behind and embrace real leadership!